Lack of Diversity on MLK Day Keeps Doctors Away

We students don’t think enough about how minorities have impacted our state’s economy, politics and healthcare system. If we did, we would understand the importance of diversity given California’s changing demographics. The governor’s current health reform proposal and an expected physician shortage by 2015 should further heighten our concern for diversity (or lack thereof).
As a woman of color and a future medical student, I find it appropriate to commence Black History Month by acknowledging the contributions of minorities in medicine and celebrating past and present physicians of color.
Given the great achievements in healthcare by African-American men and women, it is difficult to imagine a time when blacks were denied access to medical education. It was not until the mid-19th century that David J. Peck became the first African-American to graduate from Rush Medical College. Following his graduation, the idea of medical school and practice became more real for those with darker skin.
At the start of the 20th century, more medical schools around the country began to admit African-Americans. Though small in number, their presence changed the conception, practice and face of medicine. The trend for increased minority enrollment in U.S. medical schools continued throughout the latter half of the 1900s.
Not enough is being done on a policy and institutional level to recruit and retain students of color. Much of the overall decline in minority enrollment is accounted for by decreases in Texas and California, two of the most diverse states in the country. California ranks fifth and first of all states as having the largest African-American and Latino populations, respectively. How is our healthcare system supposed to serve such a diverse population given its current lack of diversity in medical schools and the physician workforce?
According to the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce, the problem of racial health disparities and the lack of minorities in health professions are undeniably linked. The disparity between the California population and the University of California medical student body contributes to current racial health disparities. Research confirms that minority physicians are more likely to treat minority patients and work in underserved communities. With declines in the provision of quality care to people of color, California is expected to experience negative health outcomes.
What makes the situation even more devastating is that by 2015, California will withstand a major physician shortage. What Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger now refers to as ‘broken’ will soon be ‘shattered’ under the pressure of rapid population expansion. In an attempt to fix the current healthcare system, the new reform proposal is expected to insure 71 percent of the 5.1 million uninsured, most of whom will be low-income and racial minorities. With the growing population diversity, lack of minority medical students and expected deficit of all physicians, more than 3.5 million people (nearly half from underserved communities) will enter California’s healthcare system.
To provide quality care to the newly insured, California needs a more diverse, culturally-sensitive health workforce